Snow Falling on Cedars

by David Guterson

Hardcover, 1994

Call number




Harcourt Brace & Company (1994), Edition: 1st, 368 pages


Fiction. Literature. HTML:Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award â?Ş American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award "Haunting....A whodunit complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence and at the same time a mystery, something altogether richer and deeper."â??Los Angeles Times San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberriesâ??memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspenseâ??one that leaves us shaken and changed. "Compelling...heart-stopping. Finely wrought, flawlessly written."â??New York Times B… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member yourotherleft
Snow Falling on Cedars, set on a scenic island off Washington state known for its fishing and its strawberries, begins and ends with the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto who is charged with the murder of fellow islander and fisherman Carl Heine. As the testimony in the trial proceeds, we meet and become
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intimately acquainted with many members of the community of islanders which is divided between its white citizens and its significant population of Japanese-Americans. Taking place just after World War II, the novel deals with lingering prejudices from wartime when the island's Japanese Americans were "resettled" in California for the duration of the fighting and when even those white islanders who might have once been favorably disposed to their Japanese counterparts struggle to reconcile their post-war relationships with their Japanese neighbors after fighting the Japanese during the war.

Guterson takes on so much with this novel and does it beautifully. Starting at the center with the trial, Guterson works out throught the entire community exploring a forbidden affair, intense prejudice, war wounds of both the physical and emotional sort, hopes, dreams, struggles, and finally healing for a community that is coming to terms with itself. Guterson's narrative flows seamlessly between past and present between trial testimony and deeply personal memories. His prose is vivid and makes it totally possible to see, smell, and even taste the unique surroundings of San Piedro Island. The greatness of this book lies in the community that Guterson creates and his immense talent for perfectly capturing moments we might have some sense of but could never describe so deliciously.
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LibraryThing member lkernagh
Don't read this one if all you are looking for is gripping courtroom drama. This has so much more to offer than that: a bittersweet forbidden love story, a poetic sense of time and place, the harsh realities of war, and an almost clinical examination of a small fishing community grappling with
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feelings of post World War II racism, hatred and suffering. We see how the war has shifted some feelings and beliefs and experience how members of a small community can draw lines in the sand.

Guterson presents many sides to his story - not an easy feat to accomplish when tackling touchy topics like the internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and depicting in his characters some of the prevalent feelings and beliefs of the post war 1950's. At times the story became rather unwieldy but the beauty with which Guterson presents the Pacific Northwest through his depiction of the fictional San Piedro Island of the northern Puget Sound region of Washington State kept me reading. I will admit that with the court room drama, I started to see some interesting parallels with the small town court scenes and the TV show Matlock, which made it pleasantly interesting but not in a page turning, hang on every word manner.

I purchased this one back in 2009 because I was interested to read Guterson's portrayal of the Japanese-American internment, as Canada had also interned Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia at the same time and for the same reasons the Americans did during World War II.

It is not a pretty picture and part of the reason this book has been a 'banned book from time to time.... the darker sides of history can be hard to face for some folks.

Overall, a story that I believe presents a very well rounded approach to the topic with a lot going for it but I can see where the meandering nature of the story can be frustrating for some readers to sit down and enjoy.
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LibraryThing member SamuelW
David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars is as riveting as its title implies. It contains lots of snow. It contains lots of cedar trees. It is filled with symbolism, rich descriptions of the natural world, gently explored themes and patiently rendered characters. As beautiful as an island snowfall
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is, however, no sane person would stand and watch one for hours on end – and this, it seems, is what Guterson expects his readers to do. With a measured style that borders dangerously on monotony, he insists upon his audience wading through page after page of detail and description, offering little in return for their efforts but the consistently high quality of his language. Any suspense or pace which might have accompanied this murder mystery are utterly drained. By halfway through the novel, the reader will have lost any desire to know who actually killed Carl Heine.

Perhaps if this book had been three hundred pages or less, it would have been acceptable. Stretched as they are, however, over four hundred densely-packed pages, the fruits of Guterson's labour are soured by a feeling of self-indulgence, and eventually wither from remaining too long on the vine. For four hundred pages, Guterson takes his reader for granted, and the result is a wholly unsatisfying epic; vivid enough, but easily forgettable.

As the reader tires, so do many of Guterson's ideas and techniques. His exploration of racism covers little ground not already trod by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. Even the character of Judge Lew Fielding seems to have been cloned (with a measure of unconvincing tweaking) from Lee's judge, John Taylor. The courtroom theatrics, while they may be the most readable parts of the book, are annoyingly incongruous; they would feel much more at home in a John Grisham novel than in Guterson's scrupulously realistic world. The final chapter, while preserving that realism, manages to be both insubstantial and anticlimactic, foregoing any real resolution in favour of a vaguely uplifting moral.

Who has time for Snow Falling on Cedars? Certainly not me, and probably not you, either. If there truly is a moral to this story, it is this: nothing ruins good writing like too much good writing.
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LibraryThing member chinquapin
There is a compelling mystery story within the pages of this book, but it is hard to find amidst the pages and pages of interminable, uninteresting, detail-oriented prose. The novel is mostly about the trial of a Japanese-American fisherman who has been charged with the murder of another fisherman
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off the shores of San Piedro Island in Washington State. However, a major portion of the novel is devoted to flashback stories of various players involved in the courtroom drama. The story of subtle racism, how World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor effected the island, and the internment of the Japanese residents was effective, but it just got bogged down with the weight of unnecessary verbage. I am not interested in reading about what all the different residents of town bought from the hardware store on the morning of the storm, or how many cars (and of what make and a description of their location and position) the local newspaperman saw on his way out to his mother's house. I really, really didn't need to know about people's bathroom experiences or the defense lawyer's prostrate problems. I think the story could have been greatly improved with some judicious editing.

Additionally the novel is very bleak. The setting is austere and bleak, the characters are bleak in their emotions and outlook, and even the plot is bleak. It is not that I need or want books to be pervasively happy, but I found the dismal miasma of hopelessness to somewhat wearying.
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LibraryThing member justchris
This was a gift from my landlord's wife, who feels a certain sympathy with me, having gone through some of my recent medical travails herself in years past. And I will be passing it along to my medical mentor in turn.

The cover indicates that this novel won the Pen/Faulkner Award, which I am
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unfamiliar with. I can believe that it is an award winner, because it was an engrossing story, well told.

It is set on San Piedro Island, which purports to be one of San Juan Islands between Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the mainland State of Washington. This alone would predispose me to like the book, since it is a region I love deeply, though I have little experience of the islands themselves, having spent more time on the Olympic Peninsula.

The plot is a modern-day murder trial, with the apparent motive rooted in the past. The trial acts as a frame to move between past and present and among viewpoints. Each chapter opens in the courtroom, and as each witness begins his or her testimony, the story switches to a third-person narrative recounting that person's thoughts, feelings, and experiences, starting with the sheriff finding the body. Some chapters take a similar approach with key bystanders to the trial, such as the reporter Ishmael Chambers--moving from his actions as reporter to his background growing up on the island and then going to war. And so the story moves from sheriff to reporter, coroner, victim's widow, defendant's widow, victim's mother, etc.

As each piece of evidence and testimony ineluctably leads to another personal narrative, the tension builds, and past and present weave together, showing the tensions and bonds of a small, rural community that relies on farming and fishing for subsistence. Composed of German and Scandinavian and more recently Japanese immigrants, World War II and the accompanying internment of Japanese-Americans, tears the community and families apart, interrupting and disrupting lives, with consequences that ripple out to the present day. Throw in a love triangle, some bigotry, and we have the crisis of the past that leads to the climax of the present.

The prose is eloquent, the characterizations very believable. David Guterson does his best to maintain the suspense for as long as possible--did Kabuo Miyamoto really kill Carl Heine? All of the evidence and testimony seems pretty damning. Whether he did or not, two families are economically destroyed in the process, though this consequence of the sudden death and subsequent trial is outside the scope of the story. Because of this, it is a tender tragedy. It is well worth reading, though not a book I plan to keep (as mentioned earlier). It would doubtless make a fine movie, though many of the nuances would be lost.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
This is a very richly written book. There are a lot of layers. On the surface it is a simple mystery - what actually happened to the drowned fisherman. On another level there is a whole exploration of the prejudice and cultural conflict. On top of that there is the presence of the impact of World
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War II - on those who fought, on an island made up of Caucasian and Japanese inhabitants, on a community. Then there are the more subtle things like the blizzard that covers the island during the trial, and the ocean that surrounds the island - both representing pieces of what's going on in the story. It's an enjoyable read because Mr. Guterson gives the reader so much to think about. There is a fair amount of sex - some of which seems critical to the plot and some of which not so much.
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LibraryThing member theresa2011
Ugh. What a snooze. Some descriptions were quite beautiful, but they weren't enough to make this an enjoyable read. Despite being very intrigued by the summary I had to struggle to get through this. The plot was too slow for me and the long-winded character descriptions were not always sufficiently
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relevant to be interesting.
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LibraryThing member helpfulsnowman
This book is pretty far outside my normal reading, so please keep that in mind as you check out this review.
That said, Good god, this book is long. The book centers on a murder trial, but it also uses flashbacks to give background on the story and the various characters. It’s a lot like the
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first season of Lost, actually, with flashbacks comprising the bulk of the story. The problem, also like Lost, is that you’re really most interested in what’s happening now as opposed to what’s happened already.
A good example is near the ending. I won’t spoil anything here, but all you need to know is that it is on the eve of the verdict, the event the whole book is hinging on. You’ve read 400 pages leading up to this point, and the author makes one final digression to talk about another character in such exhaustive detail as to list the books on his bookshelf. Seriously. We’ve already heard quite a bit about this character, and I understand the utility of objects as clues to personality, but I do not need a list of every book the dude read. It’s kind of lazy in a weird way because it’s lazy while at the same time being a whole lot of work.
To continue the comparison to Lost, it also felt like a whole lot happened at the beginning and the end, but not so much in the middle.
Anyway, that’s just one example of what happens in the book pretty often. You have a good plot and interesting characters, but they get a little bogged down in the details. The author was trying to paint a very vivid picture using lots and lots of small details, but in cataloguing the details you really miss out on appreciating the painting as a whole. The story was very decompressed, but it was the least important details which were decompressed.
Finally, there is some good writing in here, but if you don’t know shit about sailing or the environment of the Pacific Northwest, you are SOL. The names of plants come up a lot more than their description, and if the smell of cedar isn’t the sort of detail you can call up, don’t expect a lot of help.
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LibraryThing member StonehamHS_Library
Throughout the course of an occurring trial, it is clear that what is at stake is more than one man’s guilt. In a town where no one can afford to make enemies, the fictional novel Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, is a story about a Japanese American, named Kabuo Miyamoto, who is charged
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with a local fisherman's murder. The story takes place during the winter of 1954, ten years after WWII on the small island of San Piedro, north of Puget Sound, Washington. The novel is narrated in a set of flashbacks by Ishmael Chambers, the town’s newspaper reporter, and ironically, the white boy who was also once involved in the love affair with the Japanese girl named Hatsue, who later becomes Kabuo's wife. The community, made up of strawberry farmers and fisherman, is haunted by its past memories of WWII and exile of its Japanese residents. The compelling novel portrays strong evidence of themes such as: prejudice, cultural difference, love, and moral judgment. Prejudice was shown throughout the novel by the way the American people treated the Japanese; the cedar tree displays love because it is where Ishmael and Hatsue first discover a love that overcomes their cultural differences. In addition, moral judgment is the leading factor in which the judge permeates the revelation of the truth. The novel is also directly related to the American dream because of the way it describes Japanese immigrants wanting better lives for themselves. The cedar tree also represented a place where they dreamed of doing what they wanted, which ties in with the theme of the American dream - "Inside their cedar tree, for nearly four years, he and Hatsue had held one another with the dreamy contentedness of young lovers."
Snow Falling on Cedars was a beautifully written novel by David Guterson. I found it to be a deeply satisfying read because I liked the way the author described all the characters in emotionally vivid details; they were so real it was almost as though the characters jumped out of the book and lived in real life. Furthermore, I liked how Guterson incorporated rich American history and modern day trial scenarios into a fictional setting. On the other hand however, the beginning was a slow read, but towards the end speeds up. Some of the things that were less appealing to me were the long drawn out courtroom dialogues, and at times, the difficult to understand and confusing discussions about buying and selling property. The book appealed to me because it was different and unique, it was a heart-stopping and suspenseful book that left me dying to read more. At the same time, it also was enjoyable to me because I felt like I could relate to many things from the novel to how things are in today's society. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an over-all interesting yet hauntingly beautiful mystery book. -O.S.
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LibraryThing member HHS-Students
Reviewed by Hannah (Class of 2014)

Boring, that’s what the book I read was! David Guterson, the author of Snow Falling on Cedars, has also written, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind, which is a collection of short stories, and Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. Snow Falling
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on Cedars was set on the Island of San Piedro, Northwest of Washington, in 1954. This was a book about a murder and murder trial. The defendant, Kabuo Miyamoto, was accused for murdering a young local fisherman. This fisherman was found drowned in a bay off the coast of the island one morning after he had been out fishing all night. Throughout the course of the trial, startling secret memories come to the surface. One of these memories is a sexual relationship between a white boy and a Japanese girl, while they were kids during World War II. This girl eventually grows up to marry Kabuo Miyamoto. Kabuo was also a fisherman, and was out fishing the night Carl died, or was perhaps killed.
I thought this book was boring because it took almost five minutes to describe the setting and the tree where the white boy and Japanese girl met secretly and where their sexual relations happened. Although I found this book really long, hard to get into, and uninteresting it did have a couple interesting spots. The spots that I found interesting were the description of the boy’s and Japanese girl’s relationship and the description of Pearl Harbor being bombed. To me, history is interesting so I found that the description of the Pearl Harbor bombing appealing to me. Also I liked the description of the relationship between the Japanese girl and the American boy because I find things like romance and love intriguing. Even though this book won the Pen/Faulkner Award in 1995, I don’t see how it did since it was such a hard book to read.

This book is well written but overall it is very long, laborious, and boring. I would rate this book one out of five stars. I would rate it this way because it takes forever to read and it is very wordy and long. I would not recommend reading this book.
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LibraryThing member poolays
The beginning is slow going and I admit I wondered if I would be able to keep the characters straight. But the prose is achingly beautiful and the story compelling. I am so glad I stuck it out past the first fifty or sixty pages.
LibraryThing member tcarter
With the slightly artsy title and the high flown blurb I was expecting to find this worthy but a bit hard going. Actually, however, I was hooked by the plot and the characterisations and ploughed through it. This is a wide ranging novel, reflected in the number of tags I had to use to describe it,
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but with all the issues orbiting a fairly simple, and well constructed court room drama. The language is rich and evocative, at times reminding me a little of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read this soon after, "All Quiet on the Western Front" and so the wartime themes stood out for me most clearly, though I suspect that at other times some of the other themes may make themselves prominent. In particular the analysis of how racism works and how the boundaries between race and nationality blur at times are very strong.
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LibraryThing member eldang
This was so close to being an incredible, essential book, but some fatal flaws halfway ruined it for me.

First the good: it's a powerful story, primarily about the atrocity that was the US's WW2 internment of Japanese-Americans, and with some important secondary themes like how the war itself
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damaged people and how men can hurt ourselves by internalising all our problems. Guterson's also a very talented writer, switching easily between a precise clinical style that fits the courtroom elements of the story, and a lyrical style that captures the feel of Puget Sound in winter beautifully.

But there were three flaws that by the end of the book really took a lot away in my eyes:

1. The two Japanese families who have major parts in the story feel like instances of a culture, not sets of living breathing characters. Even the two individuals from those families who are at the centre of the story felt more like roles than people. By halfway through I found myself really wanting to read a Nisei author's telling of the same story. And it's odd because this isn't about trading in nasty stereotypes--the author is clearly very much on their side, but still can't quite get past essentialising their culture.

2. Guterson has a strange obsession with penises, the size thereof, and writing very mechanical sex scenes in which the insertion of peg A into slot B is jarringly unsexy but kicks off massive emotional repercussions. Those scenes felt like they were written by a teenage boy feeling pressure to lose his virginity, and it's all the stranger because he's so good at writing other types of scene.

3. I'm going to hide this one. It's not exactly a suspense spoiler, but I don't want my impression of it to colour other peoples' reactions if you're reading this book with fresh eyes. I hated how at the end the book suddenly becomes Ishmael's redemption story. That character was interesting--I liked him a lot at the start of the book and progressively less as the story unfolded--but ultimately worthwhile for how disturbingly relatable his faults were. But suddenly at the end Guterson made the story not about Kabuo, Hisao or Carl at all, and all about the emotionally-still-a-teenager white boy saving the day by getting over his baggage. I wish I could rewrite it to either not require him to be the one who announces the new evidence, or having his mum coerce or shame him into revealing it.
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LibraryThing member karstelincoln
Layer upon nuanced layer. Austere narrative matches the unapologetic landscape. Deft use of imagery and symbolism. Classic in the sense that this battle, both in the individual and public arena, will always exist-- with different details but constantly part of the human condition. And ending full
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of hope and encouragement.
Well developed characters makes this story all the more believable and accessible.
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LibraryThing member trek520
I purchased this book in April 1994 and began reading it shortly thereafter. I stopped reading less than 50 pages into the book because I thought the author would make me crazy with all the details about the island of San Piedro including the weather, the terrain, and the people. Plus, the story
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takes time to develope and at the time I was reading more of the action packed- -Tom Clancy- -authors. Then out of the blue at Happy Hour last week (2/9/10)two of my friends began talking about this book with nothing but praise. After HH I came home and pulled the book off my bookshelves and began reading it again. This time (15 years later)I found it almost impossible to set the book down and found myself staying up till 1:00 a.m. one night and 2:00 a.m. the next night. I have a Japanese-American friend- -2nd generation - - who also attends our weekly HH. Reading about the internment camps that Japanese-American's were forced into made me cringe with. . . well, honestly, shame. Although I had no part in this national disgrace I am proud to be an American and found myself sitting at home alone reading and, frankly embarrassed that this "Japanese-Amerianc internment" stain sits in our national history. But, sitting that aside, this is a great read and intense.
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LibraryThing member tealightful
Basic Summary:Set over a span of roughly 12 years an island near the Puget Sound in the absolutely beautiful Washington State, both before, during and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Home of an incredible number of Japanese immigrants prior to the war and talks of the uneasiness and familiar
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hatred that grew between the two races as the conflict grew. The story centers around a Japanese man [Kabuo] accused of murdering a well-liked white man [Carl], both career fisherman with devoted families. The two have been engaged in a family feud over land since the war, could it drive Kabuo to first-degree murder? *cue dramatic mystery music*

This book was a bit dull to start with, it seemed scattered and a bit boring. After about a hundred pages though, I found myself raptly engaged in the history of this island, its people, its everything. By the end of the book, I was eating it up. I wouldn't say that it a page-turning edge-of-your-seat nail-biting whodunit, but it is very easy to get sucked up into the gently, realistic lives of the character. There is so much history in this book, about life in the 1940s for NW Islanders sharing their homes with 'the enemy' ["Japs"].

But, they do reference Carl Heine's penis a lot. Way more than is necessary in a book about a dead guy that involves no sexual trysts..therefore, repeated comments about it seemed very strange. Especially the long paragraph where the coroner describes it in detail
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LibraryThing member RobinReardon
This moody, contemplative story is written in a voice that is clean—even pristine—and yet creates a nexus of seemingly contradictory realities. As a reader, I usually remember for a long time written descriptions of nature that use pigments and shapes to evoke an emotional response that colors
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the entirety of the story. Guterson’s depiction of the forests and seas of Puget Sound do exactly this.

The confluence of lives in the story includes berry farmers, fishermen, a local newspaper publisher, and the Japanese-American woman with whom the publisher had a childhood romance—and who is now the wife of a Japanese-American accused of murdering a fisherman. Guterson weaves a very real and plausible story out of seemingly disparate pieces to create a work that is part romance, part mystery story, part courtroom drama, and part historical fiction (with the echoes of the internment camps into which the U.S. put Japanese citizens during World War II).

I did not see the film that inspired this book, but I understand that it was a pale imitation. So if you saw and were not impressed by the film, I hope you won’t let that prevent you from reading this book, which has subtle magic threading through it.
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LibraryThing member calexis
This book was well worth the anticipation I felt when I was waiting to read it. It had been on my TBR pile for awhile and I had forgotten all about it. It's a story that unravels through the case of a trial and the author brings you back to the past and then ties it back to the present time in the
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story. Although you're first brought in to the story under the impression that you find out whether a man was killed or not, you realize soon enough that the story is really about prejudice and injustice in America.

I had done a little research myself when I was back in high school but the focus was in Canada, not the States. It was basically about the injustices that were dealt to the Japanese Canadians during the World War II. The truth of the matter is that whenever someone brings up the case of prejudice and racism, most people directly think of Hitler, Nazis and the Jews. However, no one ever really brings up the North Americans and their own cases where they would go against its own citizens. The Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans were treated like animals, enemies and "aliens", being sent away to internment camps. Although they were not murdered or gassed, it does not make the case any less serious.

This story is about how even in the name of justice and equality, humans can't help but add their emotions in. At the first hint of possible foul play, the law enforcers and citizens were already pointing their fingers at the Japanese Americans. Kabuo, the accused man, is seen as having the motive of hatred and prejudice when all along, it was hatred and prejudice that was being played against him. The narration is simply beautiful and captivating. Each character presents their case and brings you to see the underlying emotions of the people involved. The book has got my recommendation behind it.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
Guterson deftly weaves his story of a fisherman’s drowning death and the man who is accused of his murder from flashbacks, incorporating a murder trial, a love triangle and the experiences of Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. Despite some overlong descriptive
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passages, this is a beautiful, slow-moving read. The climax does fall a little flat, but that doesn’t negate the enjoyment of getting there.
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LibraryThing member jolerie
Love can conquer all things...
But can it conquer bitterness? Can it overcome divisions? Can it heal the hurts caused by disappointments? Can it belong to you when you never possessed it in the first place?
San Piedro is a quiet fishing/farming community where the people work hard to earn their
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living and to raise their families, but everything is shattered with the death of Carl Heine, a local fisherman. Amidst a raging blizzard, a Japanese man is accused of murder and the community is forced to come to terms with their own prejudices and their own humanity. Wrapped up in the drama of the court case unravels a love story that was young and forbidden. The question of what love is, what we will do for love, and ultimately how love changes us are all explored in the context of two young lovers who discover that innocence is sometimes not enough to sustain it through the turmoils and upheavals of life.

Snow Falling on Cedars was the perfect match to the weather we were having the last week. The snow fell outside my window as it blanketed the landscape of San Piedro and like snow, the layers within the story, melted one layer at a time, one truth at a time.
In the beginning the constant jumping back and forth through the narrative was rather disjointing and hard to follow. As well, the sheer number of characters that were introduced, from the farmer next door, to the grocery clerk that worked on the corner, and most of these characters appear only once then fade away into the background, were enough to make me dizzy. Once the frenzy of introductions had calmed down, the story began to fall into place, and it was well worth the wait. The court case was riveting, the love story was heartbreaking. In the end, the snow abated both outside my home and within the pages of the story, but the memories of those who lived in San Piedro are permanently etched within my mind.
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LibraryThing member VioletBramble
A slow, atmospheric book, set on San Piedro Island, in the Pacific Northwest. The island is home to many generations of families, seeming to be of mostly German descent. There is a fairly large community of Japanese immigrants, mainly first and second generation. Families make their living
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primarily by fishing and strawberry farming.
When fisherman Carl Heine is pulled out of his fishing net, murder is suspected. Another fisherman, Kabu Miyamoto is arrested for the crime. The book gives us the story of the trial, as seen by Ishmael Chambers, owner of the Island newspaper. Ishmaels' childhood friend and first love, Hatsue, is married to Kabu Miyamoto. Through flashbacks we are shown life on the island, the friendship and romance of Ishmael and Hatsue, the arrest and internment of the Japanese residents of the Island during WW II, Ishmael's time in the Navy and the loss of one of his arms, the Miyamoto's deal with the Heine family to buy 7 acres of land for farming and the subsequent loss of that land while in internment and the continued prejudices of the island residents.
The prose is lovely and descriptive. You can practically smell the walls of cedar trees, taste and smell the strawberries, and feel the mist and fog on your face. A slow read that gets slower in the middle of the book, but so worth the time spent reading. Recommended.
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LibraryThing member jessilouwho22
I was hesitant to pick up this book because I wasn't sure if I'd like it or not, and to tell the truth, this book wasn't my favorite. There were things I liked about it and things I didn't like about it, but overall, this isn't a book that I'd be dying to re-read.

I'm going to start with the things
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I liked about it. First of all, I really liked that for a historical fiction, this was a unique period of time. This is the first book I've ever read that spends time in the Japanese internment camps and that takes place in the post-WWII years. For that reason, this gets points for uniqueness. Also, I liked that Guterson spends a great deal of time with character development. He makes sure that the reader gets to know his cast of characters and comes to understand the motives behind their actions. But, more on that later. I particularly enjoyed the beauty of his language. There were times that I'd get completely caught up in the simple beauty of his words, and I found myself re-reading a few passages here and there. There was also a gorgeous love story, and that was mostly what kept me reading. I feel as though everything else sort of centered around that love story. It is a slower and calmer read, not necessarily one to keep the pages flipping, but I don't think that's negative in any way. I think that every now and then readers need something to slow them down and remind them why they love to read. Above all, though, my favorite thing about this book was that there was something for everyone--a trial and a murder investigation, a love story, war stories, seafaring stories, and stories from both Americans and Japanese Americans during WWII. This book was about love, redemption, forgiveness, responsibility, history, pride, and prejudice. To me, that is why this book was worth of the Pen/Faulkner Award.

However, there were a few things that I didn't like. First of all, although it is apparent that Guterson painstakingly researched his novel, the excessive amounts of detail at various points really detracted from the story. There were times when I'd be happily reading along, caught up in the story, and then I'd hit a chunk of two or three pages of unnecessary detail and I'd have to fight my way through. He doesn't do this all the time, I noticed. There are times when the amount of detail is enough to paint a lush picture in the reader's mind, but there were several times when it was just too much. There was only one other thing that I didn't really enjoy about this novel, and it was a doozy for me, being a reader for whom characters are everything. While Guterson excels at character development and really has a knack for it, I still managed to walk away from this one feeling no connection with his characters. This was rather strange for me and took me a while to place my finger on because usually with excellent character development comes a great connect with the characters. However, now that I've finished with this book, I'm fairly certain that these are not characters that will remain with me, and they weren't ones who I found myself daydreaming about.

Overall though, I do think this was a good book. I ended up just liking it, not loving it, but that doesn't take away from this being a good book. There were things I liked and things I didn't, but for me, that's what separates a great book from just a good one.
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LibraryThing member fuzzy_patters
Snow Falling on Cedars centers around the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American fisherman, who lives on San Piedro Island in Puget Sound, Washington. Miyamoto is accused of murdering Carl Heine, who, like Kabuo, is a fishermen and an World War II veteran. The story takes place in 1954
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against the backdrop of a country a decade removed from the war and Japanese internment.

I have found it problematic to determine whether I think this is a good book or not. The writing was uneven in quality throughout the book, and at times, I found myself thinking that it was all pointless. On the other hand, there were times when I thought it was wonderful, and I could understand why it won the Pen/Faulkner award for fiction in 1995.

One problem that I had was the uneven writing. At times, it was just outright clunky with too much passive voice making it unclear who was doing the action. This did not seem to be intentional or the writer’s choice of style. It was something that just appeared in the middle of the book and then left again by the end. I thought that some of the middle sections could have used a bit of editing and a rewrite for this reason.

It was during this middle section of the book that I began to be frustrated with the lack of a big, enlightening idea behind the story. It seemed as if the author was trying to convey the idea that racism is bad and that the treatment of Japanese people in the 1940s United States was particularly bad. I can see why this would have been a unique idea in 1950, but this novel was published in 1995 when these would have hardly been revolutionary ideas. It all seemed rather pointless.

It was in the last 100 pages that I thought that Guterson redeemed himself as an author. It was at this point that there was evidence of real growth in the characters in the novel and the revelation of some larger themes for the reader to consider. This section made me being to consider how we as humans relate to each other and the immense pain and happiness that can give each other through our relationships and our treatment of each other. In the end, our humanity and our human frailties are our only constants as the world itself is full of random coincidences that shape our fate. Guterson made this quite clear through his plot, his characters, and his beautiful portrayals of the island and it’s harsh winter weather.

I am left pondering the quality of this novel. I can only conclude that this is a good novel but not a great one. It is an enigma that contains some great writing at times despite its flaws. I could not put it down, which accounts for something, but I was also frequently frustrated by its problems, which also should count as well. I can recommend it, but I can’t say that it is a favorite.
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LibraryThing member idyll
Good concept undermined by lame writing and what I call 'the political disease' -- characters aren't allowed to be real people because they are just cardboard cutouts for a point-of-view imposed on them by the author. (See Kingsolver, Barbara).
LibraryThing member miketroll
An atmospheric, absorbing mystery woven into the modern history of the American North-West. Especially fascinating is the light it casts on America's relationship with its Japanese immigrant population following Pearl Harbor.

A deservedly successful novel.




0151001006 / 9780151001002
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